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Art Review : Works Of 2 Artists Are Linked By Romanticism

November 05, 1986|ROBERT McDONALD

SAN DIEGO — The Quint Gallery (664 9th Ave.) is exhibiting works by two artists that, despite their very apparent differences, share a mysterious romanticism in character.

Frank Cole, whose works have previously been seen at the Quint and at Installation Gallery, customarily works in a large format. These new works, painted constructions with some forms in relief, are, despite their uniformly small scale (26 by 20 inches), proposals for much larger works. Ideally, they would be the most visible of public works--billboards--although drivers may not want to try interpreting them as they whiz by.

"Still Life" features a cliched image from the 1940s: a vase of hibiscus in the background with a figurine of a small brown, nude female, provocatively lifting her left arm to her hair, in the lower right foreground. What, however, is one to make of a peculiar form in the opposite corner? It looks like two joints of pipe. Such questions are surely part of Cole's appeal: He involves you with the most obvious images, then raises questions with them that are not so obvious.

"Africa" seems like a straightforward title. But the image is not what most viewers would expect. The subject is not black Africa, but Egypt. We know that because we see figures wrapped in bindings as well as hieroglyphics and a solitary eye. But we also discover two disturbing forms: large smoking vats, possibly symbols for oil refineries.

"Dive Bombers" seems simple enough and direct--black airplanes in relief in a sky of orange, rose-like forms representing bursts of machine-gun fire. They recall the comment of Count Ciano, Mussolini's son-in-law, that one of the pleasures of bombing Ethiopia was seeing the "explosions like roses."

Curiously enough, the same forms also appear in the foreground carpet of "For Women Only," which appears to be a statement about women's liberation. A nude woman floating, Chagall-like, in the sky, freed from the domesticity represented by an empty, comfortable armchair and the sexual stereotyping represented by an empty dress, both in the foreground, seems threatened by a huge volcano (resembling a breast) in the background.

Cole's maquettes, crowded with images in seductive, grayed-down tones, invite such individual interpretations. They are beautiful and puzzling. It would take a daring entrepreneur to support the realization of even one of them in full scale. But what a memorable realization that would be!

San Francisco-based artist Leslie Lerner's recent paintings look like landscapes in the tradition of the great 19th-Century English painter J.M.W. Turner--vast, moist atmospheres with suggestions of solid landscape in the foreground. The palette is, for the most part, blue and green, with a mysterious inner light enhanced by the artist's convention of leaving quarter-inch, only partially pigmented strips along the edges of the paintings and his old-fashioned glazing of their surfaces.

Many of Lerner's works are recognizable as scenes of Mexico, which the artist visits frequently. They are not, however, necessarily representations of real places, but romantic evocations.

Despite their overall seductiveness, sinister elements may appear, for example, an erupting volcano in "Joya Caja."

"Angel's Light," which contains a small amusement park in a vast dark field, seems to be flying off in all directions. In "My Life in France," tiny figures in the left foreground gesture operatically as a small house burns to the right.

Although very different in their aesthetics, each of the artists provides multiple occasions for the exercise of the viewer's imagination.

The exhibitions continue through Nov. 15.

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